With a playoff spot all but a certainty for the San Jose Sharks — a 16-point cushion on the fourth-place Canucks in the Pacific Division with 15 games remaining — all that’s really left to play for in the remainder of the 2015-2016 campaign is playoff positioning.
The Sharks, as of Friday, sit at 80 points, three behind the Ducks and four back of the first-place Kings, making it entirely possible for them to nab home-ice advantage in the first round or even win the division outright.
But, considering their woes on home ice, would they even want to?
More of the same
On Thursday night, the Sharks were blanked at SAP Center by Keith Kinkaid and the Devils, who recorded their first shutout in San Jose since 1993.
The 3-0 final score was not indicative of the Sharks’ effort. They nearly had double the amount of shots as the Devils, outshooting them 30-16, controlled puck possession, and held New Jersey to just nine shots over the last two periods. In fact, the Devils did not record a single shot on goal in between their first two tallies — an 18-minute stretch.
Meanwhile, the Sharks had no shortage of opportunities, from Dainius Zubrus having a point-blank chance stopped by Kinkaid to Brent Burns failing to score on an open net. The Sharks probably would have won this game if not for their inexplicable home-ice disadvantage.
As it stands, the Sharks are the NHL’s best team on the road (25-9-3) and the worst at home (12-15-3). They are the winners of five of their last seven games, and it’s not a surprise that four of those five wins have come away from SAP Center; the Sharks have lost three of their last four home games.
“We’ve been successful on the road, it takes a lot out of us winning those games and finding ways to win,” defenseman Paul Martin told the media after Thursday’s loss. “Maybe we take it for granted, that the same thing will happen at home. We need to play (at home) with some desperation.”
Perhaps the Sharks should ask the fans to boo when they take the ice at SAP Center or change the logo at center ice to that of the opposing team’s.
All joking aside, the next month will provide better answers on the home struggles. The Sharks play 9 of their next 11 games at home, including a cushy six-game homestand in late March. How they fare in these games will determine whether they start the playoffs at home or in Los Angeles or Anaheim.
Does it matter?
Every team wants to play at home. Despite the odd home difficulties, Pete DeBoer is not going to deliberately make sure his team stays in the No. 3 spot in the division.
Still, this anomaly cannot be disregarded simply as a trend or a small sample size. We’re more than 80 percent done with the season, and there is a clear difference between the team’s home and road records.
Furthermore, the Sharks have split the four meetings thus far with the Kings this season, and both of their wins have come — you guessed it — at Staples Center, though San Jose has not had much success against the Ducks regardless of location.
SAP Center — AKA “The Shark Tank” — has gained a reputation in years past as a tough place to play for opponents. It’s loud, it’s packed, and the team feeds off the energy by controlling the tempo on the ice.
But since last season, it hasn’t been that way. Sellouts are no longer a guarantee — Thursday night’s game was not sold out — the energy in the building seems lower, and it has, in part, translated to lack of wins.
Instead, the Sharks have treated other teams’ buildings as their own home. It’s strange and inexplicable, but it has worked, and the plethora of home games to wrap up the season may unintentionally work to their favor: it gives them a chance to clinch road-ice advantage in the postseason.
Eric is a journalism student at the University of Southern California and a sports editor at the Daily Trojan. He grew up in the Bay Area and has followed the Sharks since a young age. He served as a beat writer on the team for SFBay.ca during the 2014-2015 season. Previously, Eric has worked at FanSided and Bleacher Report.